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UFC heavyweight great Randy Couture knows what it is to go head-to-head with the organization for the betterment of a fighting career. It’s why he wishes more fighters stopped being so “egocentric” and worked together to form a union and give athletes some long-due leverage.
Couture (19-11) is one of the greatest fighters in Octagon history. He was the first athlete to win titles in two divisions and remains the oldest man to ever win the heavyweight championship. However, things were not always sunshine and roses between him and the MMA world leader.
In 2007, “The Natural” went to legal war with the promotion over his desire to have more contractual freedom and face Fedor Emelianenko in a battle of the best heavyweights at the time. The Russian MMA icon never came to terms with the UFC, and this fight would have happened under the Affliction banner. Of course, the UFC was not going to allow their heavyweight champion to do that, and Couture wasted half a million dollars in legal fees fighting a hopeless battle against the promotion.
The fighter-turned actor looks back on that time with frustration. Not only for the lost year of inactivity and money but from the lack of support from fellow fighters. He believes his fight against the UFC could have been a watershed moment for all fighters if his contemporaries had joined with him, in standing up to the most powerful organization in the industry.
Randy Couture explains why MMA athletes have yet to form a fighter union
“I was trying to do what was best for me. I didn’t get any support from any of the other fighters. I think if we had united then, we may not be in the situation we’re in now,” Couture said during a Monday appearance on The MMA Hour. “We may have been able to create a fighter’s association, create some minimum standards and minimums for us as fighters: health care, retirement packages, a lot of the things professional athletes in a lot of other sports enjoy. But that didn’t happen, so here we are, 14 years later, still talking about the same issues.”
The situation now has fighters receiving only a small percentage of the UFC’s billion-dollar revenue each year. And they still don’t have health care or retirement packages. Fight purses for elite talent on the roster still pale in comparison to what top fighters in boxing earn. Couture says the reason fighters have not united to get more leverage with a union is from of a lack of seeing the bigger picture, and being selfishly focused on their own needs and not that of all fighters.
“The fighters are very egocentric. They don’t look at the big picture sometimes. They don’t see themselves that way. A lot of times we’re arrogant, honestly,” he said. “We think, ‘Oh, it will never happen to me,’ and unfortunately, it is going to happen to a lot of us if we don’t take care of this window and opportunity we have. … Now, let’s be honest – the world isn’t fair. So it’s up to us as fighters to come together and unite.”
Couture sees parallels and another opportunity in the current battle between Francis Ngannou and the UFC
A major story over the last few weeks has been the ongoing contract dispute between UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and the promotion. He is stuck in his current deal because of the contract’s “champion’s clause.” Even though he has fulfilled the six-fight obligation he originally signed for. “The Predator” has made it clear he will not fight for the same money he made at UFC 270 and is willing to wait out the year that’s been added to his deal.
Couture sees some similarities in his and Ngannou’s situations, and he thinks this is too is another chance for fighters to stand behind the heavyweight king and create beneficial change for all of them.
“It takes guys like Francis, those top-tier guys that have the potential to make those six-figure contracts in fighting.” Couture said. “There aren’t very many of them. But if those guys are willing to put that on the line to change the sport, and we unite as a group of fighters, and develop and demand these minimum criteria, then I think the sport changes and for the better for the athletes.”
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